I’ve struggled for a long time, beating myself up for how I work. Some may say it’s very ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) But, I’ve always considered myself more having OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
I don’t know if one can have both, but I don’t think I do. I’m rather meticulous when working on a painting, I’m definitely a neat freak, and I obsess over perfection.
However, it’s obvious I constantly flip the script on what I work on. This might not be ADD, but sheer…what’s the word? Restlessness. Yup, that’s it.
In 2015, during my solo show at Shulamit Gallery in Venice, Edward Goldman of KCRW led a panel discussion about my exhibit. I showed three bodies of work (technically four), and a multimedia installation. It was my most extensive exhibition to date.
During the discussion, he insisted it was impossible that I’d produced the works simultaneously. I had, but he didn’t believe me. He all but called me a liar in front of an audience. What was I to say? That is how I work.
He claimed it was because each series were all so different. These were the early pieces of the Joshua Tree Paintings, Rock & Refuge, the Junk pieces (which were referencing my short film), and a few of the Kabbalah Tree of Life pieces.
Maybe my issue is both restlessness and boredom. I get gung-ho on a series, then I miss doing one I’ve left behind, as my ideas are always open-ended. It’s a balance between my love for the narrative and the abstract. I love both! I often try to marry the two, and sometimes they’re separated. It always depends on what I’m inspired to work on, and I can’t help it.
I don’t particularly like calling it a muse, but, in a nutshell, that’s what it is. So, it’s not something I can control. And for a long time, I have been beating myself up about it. Not just because of what Edward Goldman eluded to, and not just because of what I project upon others’ thoughts of me. It’s been a judgment of myself that I’ve been doing something wrong because I’m not like “other artists.”
I’m not saying I’m the only artist that works this way. If you do it too, and you’re reading this, perhaps you feel similarly. Like you “dabble” in too many styles. You compare yourself to artists that are focused on one thing. But aren’t you just doing what you feel? That’s all I’m doing. However, I’ve been doing it while being hung up on what others think of me. Ridiculous.
This is such a stupid thing to get hung up on since I’m going to do what I want regardless of what anyone thinks. I’ve been hung up on it due to the art world’s brainwash regarding “consistency.” Deep inside, I feel the art world confuses consistency with voice. They want an artist to land on something that “works,” then have them repeat it, almost precisely, dozens, if not hundreds of times. This equals their “voice,” and thus, consistency. If you see it for what it is, this consistency is really about commodity. So, when I say “the art world,” I am talking about commercial galleries, not the artist’s community.
All of this stuff can significantly affect the artist’s community. It does. I see it. Sometimes, it makes me sad. It then affects me too. I wind up comparing myself, wonder about my work, and whether I’m doing something wrong. Not all the time, but sure, sometimes.
But I have to go back to my rule of not letting those outside voices pass the threshold of my studio door. This has been one of my most hard-fast rules. One I’ve admittedly broken but am true to for the better part of the time. I’ve just been remiss in permitting myself to follow my muse–even though I do! Silly, isn’t it?
For those of you still reading, I can confidently tell you from thirty-plus years of experience, style and voice are two very different things. Even knowing this full well, even I have lacked confidence in myself regarding this. Maybe it’s not so much lacking confidence but just getting temporary amnesia. I blame myself, of course, but I blame social media and the art world too. It’s challenging to keep your own council, navigating this stuff at times.
I also don’t feel style, nor voice, has anything to do with specialization either. In my opinion, that is just a repetition of the singular. This is what happens when some artists land on something that “works.” A singular successful painting. Instead of exploring an evolution of the idea, they continually repeat it, almost exactly.
One’s style has more to do with subject matter. Your voice is your hand, and (hopefully and eventually) it should be unmistakable. Typically, it’s not found in an instant, yet it’s always been there. I’m not trying to be cryptic in saying that last part, but it’s the truth. It’s been there since you were seven. It evolves and becomes more apparent over time.
Picasso said something along the lines that it took him years to paint like a Master but a lifetime to paint like a child. And it didn’t matter what style he painted in. His hand was always unmistakable. The same goes for van Gogh, Matisse, and many more. (It doesn’t matter if you like these artists or not, by the way.)
All the times that I’ve been told, “You paint in so many styles,” I’ve been told more often, “You have a distinct voice.” I have to start seeing that and, without feeling bad, give myself permission to keep doing what I’m doing. So that’s what I’m going to do. And if you’ve struggled with these same issues, you should too. Don’t worry about the outside voices. Just keep going, exploring, and evolving.